Chungmu Art Hall (CMAH) in central Seoul is seeking to become one of the nation’s most prestigious theaters under the new leadership of CEO Lee Jong-duck.
Lee, 76, was tapped as the new head of CMAH in mid-January. He began his career at the Ministry of Culture in 1963 and has led major venues in Korea including Seoul Arts Center from 1995, Sejong Center for the Performing Arts from 1999 and Seongnam Art Center from 2004.
"It feels a little tight to be in a smaller place, compared to my previous workplace," he said. "But my view of life is that where I am is the best place and I will come up with performances to suit this theater."
"I think planning performances is a long-term job, looking at least five years ahead. What would be the best thing for CMAH?" he said.
CMAH is composed of the Grand Theater (1,231 seats), Theater Black (327 seats), Theater Blue (258 seats) and Chungmu Gallery.
"Since CMAH is under the Jung-gu Cultural Foundation and Jung-gu District Office, we should provide performances for local residents for their emotional and intellectual development," he said.
To this end, Lee plans to attract more high art such as classical concerts, ballet and operas. The Grand Theater mostly houses big musical productions and this year has put on "Take Care of My Mom," "Scandal Makers" and "The Last Empress."
"I plan to stage musicals for 50 percent of the time and other art performances for 30 percent at the Grand Theater. The remaining 20 percent would be filled by other events promoting the Art Hall," he said.
For the medium-sized Theater Black, Lee wants to house more plays and pansori, or Korean traditional vocal music. “It is a rare round auditorium and plays and gukak would be good for the theater as the distance between the performer and the audience is small.”
Lee’s goal is to make the CMAH the representative performing hall in Seoul, not just in Jung-gu. “Once we upgrade CMAH to a prestigious art center, local residents will be proud of it.”
While working for other top theaters in Korea, Lee was a man who brought major changes.
He made Seongnam Art Center an icon of the satellite city located south of Seoul.
“Seongnam is a city with a population of 900,000, but there was a sense of difference among old habitants and new town residents. I tried to achieve harmony among them through culture,” he said. “So I held a local art club competition at the concert hall of Seongnam Art Center, closing the cultural gap between the two groups.”
He also introduced shuttle buses and a nursery at the Seoul Arts Center and played a major role in the foundation of the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts.
Lee produced the musical “Namhan Fortress” and the opera “Ariadne auf Naxos” at Seongnam Art Center. He thinks theaters should also participate in producing performances. “I’m considering making CMAH create long-term performances based on our unique ideas. The theater is only half-used when it only rents the space.”
Lee is also taking the initiative in supporting the art hall.
"I will organize an aid association for CMAH and become the first member. Now I am the CEO, but I will be a member of the support society when I leave the position," he said. "Before doing so, we have to make the place worth patronizing."
He and the staff expect a busy year at CMAH. “I want all my employees to have their hands full by providing services to all guests of the theater. I encourage them to meet as many people as possible and widen their personal connections.”
Ultimately, he wants people to come to the art center to see CMAH’s exclusive performances.
"Though CMAH is relatively small is size, I will make this place a plaza of artists, like Montmartre Hill in Paris," said Lee.